[eDebate] Some Thoughts (Let's Be Honest--Arguments) On T

Stephen Weil stephen.weil
Sat Jun 16 01:40:08 CDT 2007

After sludging through this fabulous e-debate about topicality, I felt like
I had to throw in a couple points.

First, Aaron Klemz wrote
"Next time, just quote Walter Sobchak - "this isn't Nam, Smoky, there are
rules." That was most of your argument, no?"

Yes, fundamentally, that is the point. If you run a non-topical affirmative,
you have crossed the line (which is a foul), and you better mark it a zero

The real question here is why or why shouldn't that be a rule. Given that
none of the T-Bad/We Didn't Say T-Bad/We Just Want Creativity crowd have
really provided a coherent explanation of their "alternative" (not to be
confused with a "counter-plan"), I can only assume that the alternative to
topicality being a voting issue is topicality not being a voting issue.
Someone, despite the fact that debate indoctrinated me and prevented me from
talking about what I really believe, I managed to pick up the logic skills
to make that connection.

Why do we have a topic? Because in order for any discussion to occur, we
have to pick a central point of controversy. If I look at the CEDA/NDT topic
and spend my summer researching security guarantees with Iran, Syria, the
PLA and Lebanon, only to show up to the first debate tournament and debate
against "genocide in Darfur is bad," I'll probably lose. Predictability is
the baseline for fair and meaningful argumentation. If I don't have
developed counter-arguments to respond to your initial argument, then we
never get beyond the first, shallow level of any issue. Nobody will probably
run that aff, but the point remains true for "recognize Palestinian
statehood" or anything else that isn't part of the topic. This gives a huge
tactical advantage to the affirmative (and debate, being a game/competition
and not a advocacy group, should strive to be as "fair" as possible).

Jackie says
"The desire to decrease affirmative flexibility along with creativity for
fear of debating the "unknown" has been combined with an increase in
technological methods that increase coaches' participation in the game. The
more predictable, the more the coach can be involved. The less predictable,
uh oh, the more the debates are up to the debaters."

It's definitely the other way around. The more predictable, the more the
debater can be involved instead of being forced into a one-sided argument.
The whole point of agreeing on a central controversy is that we have all
agreed it is "controversial." If the affirmative can form their argument
outside of that controversy, they can pick arguments that are no longer
"controversial," and given their unpredictable nature, the negative won't
have prepared any counter-arguments. You could say that the debaters could
just '"come up with something on the fly," but you have to be fair and admit
that isn't a balanced game. First, the negative has no cards (maybe those
are bad, I don't know), second, the affirmative gets INFINITE PREP (not
really, but if they spend one minute prepping its more than the neg gets),
and third, the affirmative gets to choose something where general
opinion/the literature is tilted in their favor (sometimes the topic
committee does that for us, but at least everyone gets an advantage on the
aff and the neg, and not just Smoky). If debaters are supposed to just on
the fly answer literally any argument, we might as well all switch to Parli.

You also seem to make a huge dichotomy between "creativity" and
"predictability." The topic is written such that there isn't just one aff.
The aff has flexibility, and a degree of creativity (especially when it
comes to advantage ground). The whole point is, it's a degree. The
affirmative can't have INFINITE flexibility, but they also can't have ZERO
flexibility. So what do we do? We try our vewy harderest to pick a topic
that balances affirmative and negative ground. Maybe the topic committee
isn't always perfect, but there certainly isn't a 70% win percentage for
either the aff or the neg. And even if there were, the logical conclusion
wouldn't be "alright, aff can say whatever they want."

But of course you say, we aren't saying any aff is topic. In fact
"Any nontopical aff should have "educational" reasons why they are not
topical. They still have an argument."

Educational? Literally anything you talk about is education. You know that
old adage "you learn something new every day." If I learn that a platypus is
a mammal, its educational. Where do you draw the line? You'll say, of
course, "but it has to be reasonable." In your eyes? In mine? Of course
every non-topical aff has AN ARGUMENT. You could theoretically respond to
their argument. The question is whether allowing them to move outside the
central controversy we have agreed on leaves the negative with anything
reasonable to say. I know everyone hates these examples, but "Rape bad" is
an argument, and its certainly something people could care about
passionately, and think we need to learn more about, but its real real hard
for the neg to win on the analytical rape good DA. I'd honestly rather try
and bat with a lacrosse stick. At least I have a stick.

Then Jackie asks (well, rhetorically),
"It serves no educational function to learn how to criticize bad forms of
education?...There was once a routinized form of education in Germany that
was pushed upon people for many years."

You caught us. Policy debaters are part of a secret Neo-Nazi plot to take
over America. But aside from just attacking your absurd analogy, I'll
actually answer your argument (something that hasn't happened much in this
lovely e-debate, but then again, people's analogies really have sucked).

Sure, it serves an educational function. The question is
a) does that educational function maintain the competitive balance of our
b) does that educational function have to happen in our competitive game.

Not to re-hash the "Go make your own league" arg that sounds suspiciously
like a bunch of pre-schoolers taking over part of the play ground and
hanging up a "no girls allowed sign," debate is what it is.

What the hell do I mean? Debate is nothing more than debate. It is a
competitive activity in which we research a topic and argue about it. Jackie
says "If your moderate debate is your training ground." Alright. Debate is a
training ground for moderates. If you want to train liberal activists, go to
a training ground for liberal activists. You don't have to leave. You can do
both, as long as when you're in debate, you do debate. Some people have
(correctly) pointed out that debate evolves. But debate has a few core rules
that make it, well, debate, and not something else. Those rules are the
things we put on our tournament invitations (we will debate the topic, its
9/6/8 or 10 or whatever, judges have to vote for one team, etc). Those are
our ground rules. If you want to change those things, then the activity
would no longer be debate, and you might as well just start a new activity
that is more to your liking. Given that your only response to this was
something vulgar and immature, I'm still not sure what your response is. You
reserve the right as free independent citizens to do as you please? Sure,
and we reserve the right to listen respectfully and then vote neg on T. I
have some friends who do Science Olympiad. Maybe they could get mad because
they are like "they only have events in Biology, Chemistry and Physics and I
really care about robotics," but they don't just show up to the competition
with a robot. They join the robotics club. (Feel free to explain that debate
isn't like Science Olympiad. Make it your whole post if you want)

Jackie's onslaught on policy debate continues?
"It is irritating to hear the same mead and beardon card win debates when
they are so falliiable."

If they are so fallible, then you shouldn't need to avoid the topic to beat
them. This just begs the question that Branson et al were talking about
earlier relating to evidence quality/debate-in-the-real world. Its "not
intrinsic" to this discussion.

But of course, Jackie says,
"Until we get topics that allows the affirmative to truly provide'solutions'
to the problem areas we vote for, people will be non-topical for many
legitimate reasons that are impacted via education."

I'm pretty sure a topical aff is a "solution" to a problem (advantage). Many
teams have even won on the aff before by proving this. Ohhhh, but you don't
personally think they are good solutions? Why have the topic committee go
through the literature on the topic area to find solvency for predictable
plan mechanisms when we can just all ask Jackie what the best solution is?
Everyone disagrees about solutions. Maybe debate only lets us talk about the
"moderate" ones (unless you're neg, in which case your solutions can be?. I
don't know?. Counter-plans? Or I guess alternatives for you). I repeat
again?debate is what it is. The topic can't be "fix the Middle East?ready
set go" because its too broad. So we try and balance it. This is an area
where it would be nice if you provided your "alternative" to T. Or is it
just "write better topics"? Which is actually "write topics that I like
more." If this were the standard, everyone could just complain that they
don't like any of the available affs and they personally want to talk about
X because that's what they believe. DAs to this above.

Jackie again,
"Why get stuck defending someone elses bad idea on the aff? Even if Ryan or
Gordon thought this was good aff
ground, that doesn't mean that debaters will feel the same when faced with
issues relating to the Middle East."

This begs the question of the whole switch-side-debate good/bad issue. It
also matters what your alternative is. Because if the alternative is
"everyone just pick a solution they believe is good," well then, we're in
for total chaos. The topic committee can't ask every individual debater what
they want to be in the topic and then construct a monstrosity even longer
than what we have now. We have to pick a central point of controversy, and
(OMG) debate (and debate is what it is?a game where we research and topic
and argue it) it.

Jackie again,
"Now for most resolutions, the disagreement is not about being policy, but
what type of policy the affirmaitve gets locked into. If the resolution
allows affirmatives the space for affirmation in a way that allows them to
not verbalize things they disagree with."

Every individual debater has a different opinion. If they all get to
verbalize what they believe, then there are functionally X topics where X is
the number of debaters that exist (we can assume some overlap, but given the
size of X, it won't help the negative any). No matter how you write a
resolution, someone is gonna feel left out. If they can't deal with it, then
they weren't cut out for debate and we can't and won't make it a different
activity just to accommodate Y person. Think about it this way. If someone
quits debate because they don't like it as it is, they are no longer doing
debate as it is. If someone makes debate different because they don't like
debate as it is, they are no longer doing debate as it is. Either way, they
are no longer participating in the same activity we are all doing now,
although it may be a similar one, so they might as well have just gone into
a similar activity that isn't debate and it would have the same educational
value for them. Again. Debate is what it is.

Jackie again (anyone noticing a theme?he must love policy debate),
"Now refer to my argument that there is an impact to being topical, and
the reality that resolutions are framed to beneift one stlye/perspective of
"policy debate" and the narrowing of aff flexibility
requires some resistance in the community. These outweigh your "personal"
communication ethics that you think exists."

Other than asserting that your somewhat vague argument outweighs, do you
want to do any impact calculus? I'll summarize the impact arguments I have
so far:

a) turns the case?lack of predictability prevents in-depth
argumentation?kills educational value
b) educational inevitable?do something else in the spare time you aren't
c) fairness outweighs?debate is a competitive game and rules must therefore
be prioritized

Each of these blips has a paragraph above?so if you decide to do some
counter-impact-calculus, just respond to those directly so that the whole
argument can be developed.

Jackie wonders (I'm going to try and entertain myself by using a different
verb every time?it'll be just like my sweet 6th grade English papers),
"Why do we make the aff do something shallow and sometimes repugnant if the
are topical?"
Shallow and repugnant to you, fantastic ideas to some. Remember, debate is a
moderate training ground after all. I'm assuming you don't put yourself in
that category. If you want an activity where you don't have to vocalize
things you disagree with? well then, you are looking for an activity that is

Jackie sarcastically muses,
"So the negative can have arguments" is the statement in the topic
committee. We are producing some real bright potatos if we make the aff be
dumb/ limited so the negative can have some arguments. How about the
affirmative not say something repulsive, then the negative make some
arguments. Or is that too complicated and too much to ask?"
Again, here you go asserting that every aff is dumb. Guess what, affs
sometimes win debates. You know why? Because their affs are good ideas. This
was addressed in more detail above in my "predictability is the baseline"
section. But the short answer to your question. Yes, that's too much to ask.

Jackie explains,
"through stories and experience Dave, thats my best answer. ike my debaters
that quit because they didnt want to increase federal control over indian
country, call african people underdeveloped, or claim US has any moral high
ground over china"
So you had debaters quit because they didn't like the topic. You'll spin
this to sound bad?but they just weren't cut out for debate. Everyone is
gonna have at least one topic they don't like in four years. This is dealt
with in more depth in the anarchy bad section above. Everyone can't just
talk about what they want to talk about, or we have chaos. I can't come into
debate and be like "I don't want to talk about US policy in the Middle East,
I think these affs are repulsive, I'm just gonna talk about whatever Y thing
that matters to me." Do you know why? Because what that person would be
doing would not be DEBATE. This isn't just a plug against K debaters. If
Egypt isn't in the topic, and I really wanted to run security guarantees to
Egypt, I can't just run it because its educational and I agree with it.
Because this just isn't Nam.

Jackie points out,
"if the resolution allowed you to increase assistance to the middle east,
there were be enought flex for the affirmative to find
their niche and practice the skills of advocacy"
This is one of those instances where you need to hash out a specific
alternative. Do you just have an objection to this particular topic, or do
you want to personally write every topic? What exactly should our standards
for those topics be. What if I am a student who ideologically disagrees with
the idea of foreign assistance and I don't want to talk about your topic?can
I talk about striking Iran instead?
That topic would aslso be absurd for the negative. Because we give
assistance to the middle east now, it makes winning disad uniqueness pretty
tough. Also what is "assistance"?that could be disaster relief, help with
their water infrastructures, straight foreign aid money from some account,
military protection, whatever. Probably hundreds of different types of
assistance to 10 countries. There is a reason we have a topic committee?they
have to go through the literature and craft the topic to create a reasonable
balance. What is your alternative?

I should probably sleep. I'll need all my energy to beat those tricksy T-Bad
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